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Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Symphony No. 2 (1919-21) [42:51]
Pour une fête de printemps (1921) [11:41]
Suite in F (1926) [14:11]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Stéphane Denève
rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, UK 30 May-1 June 2007 (Symphony, Pour une fête de printemps) and 2-4 May 2006 (Suite) DDD.
NAXOS 8.570529 [68:43]
Experience Classicsonline

This disc is the second installment in this enterprising label’s series of Roussel symphonies conducted by Stéphane Denève
, coupled with other of his works.  Welcome it is, too! 

Roussel is primarily known for his Third and Fourth symphonies and his ballets Bacchus et Ariane and Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast).  While Roussel’s First Symphony is impressionistic in nature and his last two works in the genre are much more neo-classical, the Symphony No. 2 is really a transitional work.  It is more densely scored than his later works and more complex in form.  It does not reveal its secrets as easily as the later symphonies.  However, after a couple hearings, one recognizes this as a genuine work of the composer.  As Richard Whitehouse points out in his excellent notes in the CD booklet, the symphony has never caught on in the way that some of Roussel’s other compositions have.  It is certainly a darker piece than his other symphonies and leaves a powerful impression on the listener.   It is well orchestrated with important parts for the brass and winds.  The horn theme in the first movement (Lent) at 7:53 and 14:20 that recurs in the second movement (Modéré) on trumpet at 7:57 is particularly memorable.  All three movements end quietly and contain lyrical elements in the strings.  Although the finale (Très lent) begins slowly, it later introduces a rhythmic figure that is played by the woodwinds and strings.  Then the horns burst forth with it and finally the whole orchestra picks it up.  This serves a function similar to the horn and trumpet theme in the first two movements and lends unity to the piece, which otherwise might seem a bit discursive.  The symphony ends with a nice horn solo.  Denève and the orchestra play the symphony as to the manner born, for Denève’s work with the Scottish orchestra has been impressive and continues to be.  He already contributed a superb account of the well known Third Symphony and Bacchus et Ariane ballet (see review).  His main competition in the symphony at hand comes from the series by Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris.  I have not heard that recording, but it, too, has received excellent reviews.  Charles Dutoit’s recordings of all the symphonies are also highly regarded. 

The other works on the CD are more than mere fillers.  The first item the tone poem Pour une fête de printemps, written about the same time as the symphony, resembles the symphony in its sound, although it is not as dark as the larger work.  The Suite in F represents the jovial side of the more familiar Roussel in that it was composed during his later, neo-classical period.  It is in three movements (Prélude, Sarabande and Gigue) that recall earlier, Baroque forms.   Nonetheless, as Whitehouse states, “its abrasive harmonies, motoric rhythms and pungent humour evince a distinctly ‘contemporary’ feel.”  As in other later Roussel the orchestration here is more transparent and the construction tauter and more economical. 

All three works on the disc receive superb performances and the recorded sound is also very good.  If you don’t know these pieces, this is a most economical way to experience them. I can highly recommend this CD to anyone interested in Roussel or twentieth-century French orchestral music regardless of price. 

Leslie Wright


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